Evaluating Universal Basic Income

By Sara Dube

The concept of universal basic income has policymakers and influencers around the world hotly divided. Those in favour frequently have a clear argument centred on the claim that there is less need for traditional nine-to-five jobs due to the impact of automation on society, opening up time for people to pursue creative or entrepreneurial interests while being paid a certain amount of money by the government to cover their basic needs. Not only does the scheme reduce poverty by providing a minimum level of income to everyone, it also has the potential to increase levels of happiness and well-being in society as there is more time and flexibility to explore one’s genuine interests, potentially increasing economic productivity.

Those against the implementation of a basic income often deliver a polar opposite argument painting the idea as overly idealistic and impractical. They respond to the claim of poverty alleviation by emphasising the negative effect on taxpayers and on the government: not only does it place an immense burden on these stakeholders to pay for the basic income, it also draws money away from projects that are specifically targeted to increase the welfare of citizens, such as medical care, education or health insurance. There is no guarantee that everyone granted a basic income would spend it on such services, creating the potential for a downward spiral into lower productivity and poorer health if the money is used on substances such as alcohol or drugs. The claim that people will explore their entrepreneurship, and thus contribute to increased economic productivity, is dismissed as too unrealistic: again, not everyone may choose to invest their newfound free time in productive pursuits and many may choose to stop contributing to the economy and the rest of society altogether, devaluing community life for the promotion of more individualistic projects.

While the issue may seem like a relatively black-and-white one, it is crucial to consider the nuances that surround it – such as, for instance, the specific impact on women of the implementation of a universal basic income. A universal basic income would offer women who stay at home to raise children a minimum level of economic security, freeing them from dependence on their partners to earn a living wage and granting them economic security and independence. Instead of being perceived as ‘free money,’ a feminist point of view regards basic income in the context of it being paid to stay-at-home women as a reward for the unpaid work they do at home that, in the long run, contributes to society and to the economy by ensuring the upbringing of their children and the running of a household. It creates the perception of this work and this care for others as something with value and as something that deserves pay, as opposed to a wage-less, and thus value-less, job in a society that places so much importance on money. The implementation of a basic income would particularly benefit the situation of women stuck in unhealthy relationships where they are dependent on their partners to pay for their basic needs, thus removing a huge barrier that, in many cases, prevents women from leaving abusive relationships.

On the other hand, there are those that argue that a basic income would in fact act to the detriment of a woman’s position in society, encouraging more women to stay at home and widening the gender pay gap as women with lower qualifications would have less incentive to acquire the increased training and skills to find work on the job market. A particularly unique and in-depth perspective considers the impact specifically on migrant women, who are predicted to seemingly suffer the most under the implementation of a universal basic income scheme, as they will have less of an incentive than ever to find work, lowering the rate of their language acquisition, social mobility, and thus integration into the host society.

These perspectives indicate that a crucial factor in determining the success of a basic income scheme is the manner in which the society in which it is implemented will respond to the policy: in a society that has already achieved a high level of gender equality, the scheme would empower women in allowing them to use the money to more efficiently balance household with professional work. In a more patriarchal society, it could lead to further stifling of a woman’s potential in encouraging her more than ever to stay at home, as there might be less of an incentive to find work.

The best way to determine how a society will respond to the implementation of such a system is, quite simply, to conduct a trial, as was done in Finland. This project, in which 2,000 randomly selected unemployed Finns received 560 euros per month for a year, was ended after two years in order to explore alternative welfare schemes , despite reports of greater flexibility and less bureaucracy. Critics commented that the trial was far too narrow and took place over too short a time period.

This is not to say that a universal basic income would not work in any country – some see this policy as a tool for development, to be implemented in developing nations as opposed to developed ones such as Finland.  If it were to be provided in developing countries, it would have the potential to cover the basic needs of their citizens, leading to better nutrition and health with the population, if the income is used wisely. Eventually the beneficiaries of the program may rise above poverty to contribute to the program instead of being on the receiving end of it. This vision is, admittedly, an idealistic one that depends heavily on global cooperation in providing developing countries with the resources to be able to implement such a policy and in raising awareness amongst the general population on how to most effectively utilise the basic income.

Universal basic income is an idea that certainly has the potential to change the world, but its implementation is extremely nuanced and depends on several socioeconomic factors that must be taken into account before pronouncing a final judgement on its value.

 

Sara is an undergraduate reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford. She is very interested in human rights and plans to pursue a career of law.

The importance of the PISA global competencies test

By Sara Dube

Recently, I read Sean Coughlan’s article about how schools in the UK and the USA will not be incorporating the new Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) global competencies test run by the OECD into their curriculum. I would disagree with this decision. The PISA global competencies test, as described by Coughlan, is “designed to assess respect for other cultures, challenge extremism and help identify fake news.” If the aim of education is truly to equip children with the skills to take on the ‘real world,’ then the qualities mentioned in the description of the PISA test could not be more relevant in today’s increasingly globalized, ‘post-truth’ world experiencing an alarming rise in extreme nationalism across several countries.

As a greater number of areas in the job market – such as law, marketing, manufacturing, and many others – must adapt to an international atmosphere, the values of cultural understanding and tolerance are ones that are now more essential than ever in the workplace. The PISA global competencies test, measuring “how well young people [are] prepared to work alongside people from different cultures and with different beliefs,” would therefore emphasize the significance of such skills to students from an early age, which I would argue is as important as teaching them the basics of mathematics and language. Most schools place a lot of value on subjects such as English and foreign languages. For example, as a graduate of the IB Diploma Programme, it was compulsory for me to take both an English as well as a foreign language course. It seems to me that it should be no less obvious that educators should ensure students are competent in understanding and appreciating the values of other cultures. For what good will learning a foreign language do if you cannot communicate with the people of its country due to an inability to overcome cultural differences?

My arguments for the importance of this cultural awareness are not just hypothetical. Fast-food chains such as McDonalds and Subway quickly realized that to operate and to flourish in the Indian market, where so many people are vegetarian or do not eat beef due to cultural and religious beliefs, they must open all-vegetarian branches – which they did in many cities across India. This shows how it is essential to recognize and to respect differences in cultures across the world – while globalization has made many things common to people across countries, it also serves to highlight certain cross-cultural differences that must be respected in order to achieve a more peaceful world order. The particular example of the fast-food chains demonstrates how appreciating these differences is useful in succeeding in business.

Mr. Coughlan goes on to recount how Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, emphasized that there has to be a greater awareness of “values” as social media tends to isolate people within their “echo chambers” – since the pages and websites they follow on networks such as Facebook or Twitter serve only to reinforce their own views, with little to no exposure to contradictory perspectives that are so crucial in experiencing the world in all its colours, so to speak. After all, the challenges to one’s views that can be found in studying other cultures can only be of benefit: either one is able to rationally respond to the challenges and one’s own perspectives are developed and strengthened, or one may find the challenge valid and therefore grow to experience the world from a new point of view. Even better, one may realize that cross-cultural values can coexist within a respectful environment. Much of what is taught in current education systems deals with objectivity – such as the rules of mathematics or the grammar of a foreign language. These are facts that do not change depending on what one’s cultural or religious background is. It therefore becomes very easy for students’ personal, subjective viewpoints to go unchallenged as they associate with people and frequent social media propagating the same views as their own, outside of school. Tests dealing with international differences are therefore very important in understanding cultural values of different societies and recognizing that just because one is surrounded by people of the same views and ideals does not mean that these opinions are objectively the right ones for everyone in the world to hold.  

Besides increasing appreciation of others’ values, heightened cultural awareness will also be beneficial for students as it will demonstrate not only the differences in societies across the world but also their similarities. It can, at its best, teach students to understand intercultural differences as well as to realize that despite these differences, we all share a common “human dignity” that, above all, must always be respected. This is something that some forget when they look at a person and the first thing they see is their race, colour, or religion, unable to move past these differences to see the underlying common humanity.  

I cannot emphasize how important I think it is for students across the world to take the PISA global competencies test and to increase their cultural awareness. As Mr. Schleicher pointed out, the most successful education systems tend to be those that are the most “open and diverse,” such as that of Canada. As someone who has lived in Mumbai, Warsaw, Dubai and Oxford I can attest to the immense value of recognition of, respect for, and exposure to the wealth of diversity in our world – both for personal development as well as for social cohesion and harmony. I certainly hope that schools in the UK and the US will recognize the importance of tests such as this one and incorporate them into their education systems. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry stressed, “He who is different from me does not impoverish me – he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves – in Man…For no man seeks to hear his own echo, or to find his reflection in the glass.” We must learn from our differences and take refuge in our common humanity to find our strength and to progress as a truly global society.

Sara is an undergraduate reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford. She is very interested in human rights and plans to pursue a career of law.

 

 

Works Cited

Coughlan, S. (2018, January 24). England and US will not take Pisa tests in tolerance. BBC. Retrieved January 25, 2018.

The Lady of None

By Shahana Nair Joshi

Aung San Suu Kyi— a leader whose name once evoked emotions of hope, inspiration and resilience and who was once a symbol of democracy and championed the need for an equitable power dynamic in the world— now lives under harsh criticism for maintaining a jarring silence over the alleged genocide that is rampantly taking place in her country. Criticism against her has been pouring in from all corners of the world, including from her fellow Nobel laureates. Most recently she was stripped of her “Freedom of Oxford’ title granted to her by the Oxford Council and the ‘Freedom of Dublin City’ award bestowed upon her by the Dublin City Council. While these reactions may seem obvious in the face of what seems like a leader’s apathy in the face of a humanitarian crisis, it is important to also understand the context within which the role Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of state, is defined. Continue reading “The Lady of None”

The Trouble with Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian agencies are an important international response mechanism to conflicts worldwide. The broad purpose of aid organisations is to relieve the suffering of victims, a worthy goal that may in theory sound simple enough but in practice can prove extremely complicated. Many conflicts are driven by years, perhaps decades, of tensions, and understanding the nuances of each situation is key in enabling an effective response. Similarly, disaster zones can give rise to complicated dynamics within the affected community and between locals and aid workers arriving from outside. As a result, humanitarian efforts need to be well-organised and carefully targeted towards the specific crisis, but with a multiplicity of actors this can be difficult to achieve. Continue reading “The Trouble with Humanitarian Aid”

Beyond GDP

By Matteo Roscio

“Gross Domestic Product measures everything, except that which makes life worthwhile”; this was the concluding sentence of Robert Kennedy’s speech at the University of Kansas on March 18th, 1968, a statement embodying debates regarding the dominant use of this index to measure and direct wealth and development globally. Continue reading “Beyond GDP”

Legal Framework of Children’s Rights in India: Reflections from Fieldwork

Children are the future of each nation, so it therefore follows that it is essential for each government to protect and to uphold children’s rights. Three main areas of children’s rights include: food and nutrition, protection from violence and abuse, and education. According to the Indian Constitution and certain Supreme Court orders and Acts of the Parliament, children are entitled to several rights under these categories. While working with the MV Foundation, a child rights organization based in India, I had the opportunity to talk to several girls taken out of child labour and placed into a transitional academics residential camp before entering public school. I found that while several programmes such as ration shops and mid-day meals at school seem to work relatively efficiently, others – on which I will focus in this post, require more government attention. Therefore, it became increasingly apparent that there was a stark difference between the laws in place to protect the rights of children and their actual implementation. Continue reading “Legal Framework of Children’s Rights in India: Reflections from Fieldwork”

Should Aung San Suu Kyi be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize?

Aung San Suu Kyi is known across the world as a devoted pro-democracy fighter and a beacon of perseverant light against autocracy. However, in recent months, global leaders and media have become particularly concerned about her response towards the persecution of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority. The UN has called the situation akin to ethnic cleansing, a claim which has been refuted by Aung San Suu Kyi. Baffled by her silence and refusal to condemn the crimes against the Rohingya, numerous people, including many of her fellow Nobel laureates, have appealed for her to speak for the Rohingya and stand up against the violence targeted towards them.  There have even been calls to remove her Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for her decades-long stance against military dictatorship in Myanmar. Continue reading “Should Aung San Suu Kyi be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize?”

Vietnamese Fishermen of Quang Ngai Province Attacked in the Paracel Islands by China: 3 Boats Sunk

This is a translation by Oxford Omnia of an article by Minh Hoàng on the Vietnamese news site of zing.vn, originally published in Vietnamese on August 24, 2017.

Rescuers tow sunk Vietnamese fishing boat to land in 2014. Photo: Minh Hoang.

Over the last three months, 21 fishing boats with 136 fishermen of Quang Ngai who were fishing in their traditional fishing grounds in Hoang Sa [the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea], have continuously been chased and attacked. Continue reading “Vietnamese Fishermen of Quang Ngai Province Attacked in the Paracel Islands by China: 3 Boats Sunk”